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Quality of acoustic bass guitars these days

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by lamborghini98, Aug 12, 2005.

  1. lamborghini98

    lamborghini98 The Aristocrats

    May 1, 2005
    NYC; Portland, OR
    I was in the market for an abg a while ago, and im first realizing now how incredibly let down i was by some of the major manufacturers. I went to a lot of shops, tried out an awful lot of production abg's, and just wow... they were terrible sounding.
    The Martins just didnt have any volume. There was nothing even close to a full bodied tone on those $1100-$1300 instruments.
    The Ovation was just a bad idea to start out with. You cant put a plastic back on an abg. It had bells and whistles (built in tuner, fancy electronics), but it also had no volume or sustain. The sound quality was terrible, imo, too.
    Fenders came closer to a good sound, but were still lacking. I think they were a more reasonable price. However, they were muddy and just wouldnt do.
    The Ibanezs I tried out were the best of the bunch, but were a little lacking in the quality dept. They had the best overall volume.
    I ended up buying a knock off of a Michael Kelly (a Sanatoga) with a quilt maple top (very nice), a pretty decent looking neck inlay, and decent electronics (I dont use them, so I dont care). The best part is I paid like nothing for it, I think it was somewhere around 280. It was the best decision Ive ever made concerning musical instruments (after buying an ibanez edb600, a fender bassman 60 and a broken trombone...). It has more volume than you could ever expect, but the built quality is a liiittle on the poor side. I would say its comparable to a Tacoma.
    Does anyone have the same feelings as I do?
  2. 43apples

    43apples Guest

    Nov 9, 2003
    Yes, i completely agree with you!

    It seems like acoustic guitar buliders forget what a bass guitar is, and just makes a 4 string, 34" scale length guitar! Therefore, nothing is made to work as it should.

  3. Keep in mind that the DB's get good projection but look at how big they are. I think that the luthiers are trying to find a balance between size (and projection) and playability. There's not a huge market for them right now so it's hard to make a profit sinking a lot of money into research and development. Plenty of these basses sound good plugged in but not unplugged. The other thing is that if you play an acoustic guitar with your fingers it's much more quiet than with a pic. Playing an ABG with a pic helps but I hate sacrificing the sound of fingerstyle. I am going to a luther school in January and this will be one of my personal projects. I want a fat sounding ABG with projection unplugged. It could be a while before I have the money to invest in materials for trial and error development though... :crying:
  4. lamborghini98

    lamborghini98 The Aristocrats

    May 1, 2005
    NYC; Portland, OR
    Ive never thought of playing it with a pick!
    I do agree with the size v sound aspect. I did notice how unblieveably huge the Tacomas are, but that makes the sound better. Ive found that a huuge part of the sound comes from how you hold the bass. I guess because mine is a little smaller than some others (its not small, its just no tacoma) that matters more, but I find that depending on how much of your body (and which parts) is in contact with the basses body, you get different sounds.

    A side note, Ive always wondered about luthier school. Whats the deal with them? I really want to go to one one day, but Ive never heard of any. I sort of assumed that you just got an apprenticeship with someone like in the old days.. like.. the middle ages.
  5. Even acoustic guitars will change tone with the tops and sides in contact with you or something else. They need to breathe to (re)produce the sound.

    As far as luthier school goes. There are quite a few out there and some of them are like apprenticeships. They are kind of pricey and you can plan on making some money at repairs or no money building instruments. At least not a living at it. Some are talented and lucky enough and have enough drive to make a living building but most of the graduates go on to become your local repairman or working in a fender factory or something in an assembly line type of environment. Search google. There are places like Roberto Venn. I am going to Galloup Guitars for an 8 week journeyman course. Should be enough to get my foot in the door.
  6. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    I've got no complaints about my new Tacoma 5-string.

    It's lacking nothing in the volume department; even the B string is mighty. :) Sure, it's not a DB, but luthiers can't defy the laws of physics, either.

    That being said, I did try out a lot of other ABGs that were a real disappointment in terms of volume, including a Martin which was well made but surprisingly weak, perhaps because it was a mahogany (not spruce) model. :meh:
  7. The Tacoma was the only one I liked so far. I didn't play it to an acoustic guitar but I know that the overall tone and volume was better than the others.
  8. if i ever got an acoustic bass, i'd get one of those big huge mariachi style bass guitars that bassist from the violent femmes uses (he plays it on that song: blister in the sun). those things are awesome.


    go the link and you can see a pic of it.
  9. ME TOO. The tones are wonderful.

    What Brian's playing there is an Earthwood bass, which has only 15 frets. They weren't made for long, I get the impression they didn't really catch on.
  10. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Assuming you played a USA built Tacoma with a Fishman Prefix Plus preamp, what exactly is is that you're looking for that it lacks?

    I have yet to find fault with mine.

    Respectfully, if you think a well set up Tacoma is "terrible" sounding, I'd recommend that you either stick to electric or go to a 3/4 size upright.
  11. I have a Martin BC15E, and there is nothing about it I am unhappy with. The depth of tone is beautiful. The quality of the tone is fantastic. I don't have a problem with the output when it's unplugged ... I plug it in when I need the volume in a larger space. When electrified it still sounds great.

    The Martin is worth every penny ... IMO.

    I can't comment on other brands. I don't own any other acoustic guitars. I wouldn't buy anything acoustic except a Martin. Again, IMO.
  12. dave120


    Jun 27, 2005
    Central Florida
    What's really weird, is that the best sounding acoustic bass I ever played was a cheap Hondo one that looked and felt cheap as crap. Felt like it was gonna fall apart in my hands but it sounded better than ANY acoustic bass I've heard before. I'd still never buy it though, I just found it interesting how much better it sounded than any other one in the store that I tried. I'm probably going to have to make a good sized investment when I decide to add an acoustic bass to my arsenal...it's not nearly as easy to get a cheap acoustic to play easy as a cheap electric...most times it's impossible.
  13. lowrez

    lowrez no.

    Nov 27, 2004
    New Englandish
    I really want these guys to give an ABG a go:

    Garrison Guitars

    I think the bracing system in it might be interesting.
  14. main_sale


    Apr 26, 2004
    Cape Cod
    +1 for the Martin. I'm very pleased with my B-1E,
  15. mbulmer


    Nov 25, 2002
    Feeding Hills, MA
    Good article by William Cumpiano on the subject of ABGs and their inherent shortcomings. Also has a lutherie program where he teaches one student at a time, and you build a guitar alongside him.
  16. HeavyDuty

    HeavyDuty Supporting Curmudgeon Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2000
    Suburban Chicago, IL
    The only thing I don't like about my Tacoma is that it didn't automatically morph into a five when I started moving away from fours.

    Try a felt pick - it'll give you a lot more acoustic volume, and won't be anywhere near as clacky as a hard pick.

    What I'd like to see is Rainsong start making ABGs again. Their guitars are sweet!
  17. Pruitt


    Jun 30, 2005
    Danbury, CT
    On the lower-mid end of the spectrum, I'm extremely happy with my Michael Kelly Dragonfly. Very easy to play, nice tone and the pickups sound excellent. For the price, I'm very happy about the choice I made. :)
  18. HeavyDuty

    HeavyDuty Supporting Curmudgeon Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2000
    Suburban Chicago, IL
    I saw a few Michael Kelly ABGs that were overstock during my MF Clearance Center field trip, but didn't touch any.

    How are they? The ones I saw were certainly attractive.
  19. dave251

    dave251 Wendler Instruments

    Feb 5, 2004
    Lawrence, KS
    If you're playing along with an acoustic guitar or two...you may be happy with a few of the models of ABG's that are currently being made. Even the guitarron will barely keep up with a pair of trumpets and classical guitars. And they are MURDER to play, you have to stroke them extremely hard to get sound.

    The biggest problem with volume from an ABG is as the size of the box gets smaller, the top has to get "looser", ie, thinner and lighter lumber to be able to project the lower frequencies with authority. What happens is, the "helmholtz" frequency of the box begins to overpower the pitch being played...they start "whomping" at that pitch, as the box resonance is approached, overpowering the pitch of the fretted note.

    What I have determined, along with many bass designers, is that a more controllabe and better sounding instrument can be had by amplifying...even using a VERY small amp.

    So while my instruments are designed to somewhat emulate an acoustic bass, the portability, playability, and overall usefullness of the instrument is greatly multiplied, even if it is "electric". So I try to get the acoustic "response", that touch sensitivity in my instruments...and sort of let the tone fall where it may.

    If you really want to play acoustic, you need a string bass...and there's absolutely no reason why you couldn't put frets in one. Any body size smaller than that ends up making serious compromises with tone, projection, and playing response.

    Even if the ABG had a perfect design, ie, great acoustic response loud enough to be heard with say, a mandolin, guitar, and banjo( a bluegrass group), or with a sax, drums and piano....if you DID try to mic it up, it would have to be so "loose" that feedback would rear it's ugly head in a heartbeat.

    So my solution is to use a highly resonant pc. of SOLID CEDAR, and get some tone shaping through a special pup system. With a 30 lb., 100 watt, 10" speaker amp, the rig is more portable than a string bass, has better projection( you can listen to my website mp3's and decide about tone), plays just like any fretless electric bass, and is ultimately more durable than any string bass.

    Designing the electroCoustic bass came about simply because I couldn't find an ABG that was worthwhile.
  20. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Dave, nice insight. Your instruments are compelling and -very- reasonably priced! I'm impressed!

    The Tacoma Thunderchief (along with all the papoose models) has internal bracing that is very different than any other acoustic guitar or bass that I know of. That's why their basses are so much louder than others. That and the massively huge body, though not guitarron huge. The Tacoma holds up with one acoustic on a porch or in a room with no problem unless the guitar player is playing hard. In any small ensemble it requires amplification, but sounds wonderful IMO.